Being seen and heard clearly online is extremely important in this time. Whether you are creating videos or just spending hours on video calls, many of us are finding our current equipment isn’t quite meeting our new needs. But how do you know what equipment you do need? To help answer this question, members of IT, the Library, Media Studies, the Theatre and the Campus Store came together to talk to CIEL and help compose a set of recommendations to help take your virtual presence to the next level. 

In this post you will find some suggestions for headphones, microphones, cameras, and even lighting to help you level up your audio-visual presence online. Some of this equipment is even available to borrow from VIU’s Library and Theatre department. Please be advised that the options here are meant to help you find something that will meet your needs; if you have equipment already that is working for you, you are not required to purchase any additional equipment. 

If you have questions about departmental funding or using Professional Development funding to acquire new equipment, please speak with your department. 

Before You Buy 

Many of us already own equipment that is suited to meet the current need. Before purchasing a new camera, headphones, or microphone, you will want to look at what you already have which might be just as good as something new. Smartphones can make great video cameras and the headphones that come with many smartphones generally have a microphone built in and can be used with your computer or phone. Headsets designed for gaming often include a microphone and can double as your primary equipment for recording audio or when joining a Zoom session. Most laptops have a built in webcam which can be perfectly adequate for capturing your face when making a screencast or for Zoom. 

When selecting new equipment, try to think about what you might need for the next two or three years, not just what you need for this semester. Are you going to continue making video or audio recordings when you’re able to return to face to face teaching? Will you be able to continue using the new equipment in a meaningful way yourself, or within your department long term? If not, you may want to consider borrowing equipment where possible and spending less on equipment you need to purchase or choosing equipment you have multiple uses for. 

Audio Equipment 

To get the best sound quality for recording and for meetings, you will want to have headphones rather than speakers. This is to prevent your microphone from picking up the sounds you are hearing. There are two broad choices to make when selecting your headphones and microphone: do you want one combined unit or separate headphones and microphone? 

Headphones with Microphone 

If you are looking for a piece of equipment specifically for online meetings and recording, this may be the right option for you. 

You may already own a pair of earbuds with a microphone from a smartphone. These headsets usually offer adequate sound and can pick up your audio well. Most modern computers have a combined audio in/out 3.5mm jack which you can connect these kinds of earbuds to.

The Logitech H800 (approximately $100) is a solid option if you don’t want to spend too much money. This headset can connect to your device using bluetooth or with a USB dongle. This is the headset most of the CIEL staff have used for several years. 

If you are looking for something more lightweight and multi-use, Apple AirPods ($220-$350) or the Samsung Galaxy Buds ($160) provide solid sound and a more than acceptable microphone. These options both connect via Bluetooth. You will want to test the audio volume with a colleague or friend and adjust the microphone volume before using these in an important meeting or class. 

Separate Headphones and Microphone

If you want to use a separate microphone and headphones, you will need to consider available connections on your computer. Likely you will want a microphone that connects to a USB port rather than the 3.5mm audio jack. Most modern computers have a single combined 3.5mm audio jack designed for headphones with microphones built in so you will likely not have this connection free for a microphone. 

A good condenser mic which will provide rich audio is the Blue Yeti USB mic ($140-$200). A less expensive, but still solid option is the Samson Go mic ($60). 

If you will be doing filming and require a lavalier (or lapel) microphone, VIU’s Theatre has high quality Audio Technica AT3000 Wireless Lavalier mics that may be available for use. Please contact Robin Boxwell to inquire about availability. 

For headphones, your personal preference is an important factor. Over the ear headphones are better for blocking out outside sounds and providing optimal audio quality. However, some people find these uncomfortable for longer periods of wear. 

The Audio Technica ATH-M40 ($130-$250) offers a wired or bluetooth option. These over the ear headphones provide good sound quality and privacy while blocking outside sounds. Beats Studio headphones ($270-$400) are good too, but more expensive without necessarily being better than Audio Technica. 

Whichever microphone you choose, placement of the microphone is important. If you are having trouble with being heard, try moving your microphone closer to you. Try to be within 6-12 inches of your microphone if possible.

Video Equipment

If you want a quality webcam that has versatility, we recommend the Logitech 920 ($100). This high definition webcam can be mounted on a tripod as well as on your computer. This gives you more flexibility for how and where you use it. There is a built in microphone that is sensitive enough to pick up your audio when you are sitting at your computer if you want your webcam to double as your primary microphone. 

For recording video, most smartphones have a solid camera and decent microphone. As a bonus, you can upload videos into VIUTube directly from your smartphone. 

If you are looking for a higher quality option for video recording, the Library has Canon DSLR cameras that can be borrowed from the equipment loan desk. These cameras are suitable for filming demonstrations or labs. There is also a software option available that allows Canon DSLR cameras to be used as a webcam (Canon Webcam Utility – https://www.usa.canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/support/self-help-center/eos-webcam-utility

Lighting

It is important to have good lighting when recording yourself or sharing your video on a Zoom call. There are a number of things you can do to make the most of the light in your recording space: 

  • Place a standard desk or floor lamp in front of you with the light aimed at the wall so that light reflects off the wall and onto your face. 
  • Turn off or minimize any strong light coming from behind you by closing blinds or turning off lights where possible. 
  • If possible, position your camera so there is a natural light source (such as a window)  behind the camera so that natural light falls on you. 

If you would like to purchase a dedicated light for recording, we recommend a 6” or larger ring light ($60-200) that can be placed in front of you without getting in the way of your equipment. 

Have Questions? 

For questions related to teaching and learning, or VIU’s teaching and learning tools (VIUTube, Zoom, VIULearn, and VIUBlogs) please contact the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning at learnsupport@viu.ca 

For questions about equipment loans from VIU’s Library, please contact the Library team at library@viu.ca 

To request use of a lavalier mic from the Theatre, please contact Robin Boxwell at Robin.Boxwell@viu.ca

If you need help with the technology in a VIU owned space, please contact the IT department at ithelp@viu.ca 

To inquire about equipment available for purchase at VIU please visit the Campus Store website: https://campus-store.viu.ca/ 

Want to Delve Deeper?

This post covers a lot of basic recommendations, but there are many possibilities and best practices beyond what we covered here. If you would like to learn more about improving your audio and video quality (with tips from $0 to suggestions for what you need for a complete home studio for under $500 or under $1000) visit this blog post from Aaron Parecki.

This blog post was created with contributions from Ben Hyman, Robin Boxwell, Leon Potter, Ravindra Mohabeer,  Johnny Blakeborough, and Mike Thibodeau.